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Panama Papers: MPs call on govt to rein in tax dodgers

MPs attending Tuesday’s parliamentary session were full of praise for the so called Panama Papers, which involved the largest ever data leak implicating hundreds of high-ranking individuals and financial institutions in apparent widespread tax evasion. Lawmakers issued a unanimous call for closer scrutiny of tax planning and tighter regulations to combat tax evasion.

Alexander Stubb, Timo Soini Ja Juha Sipilä
Government ministers were absent for the animated debate on tax evasion Tuesday afternoon, having left the sitting for budget discussions. Image: Petteri Paalasmaa / AOP

One of the items up for discussion during Tuesday’s Parliamentary sitting was Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s declaration of financial interests. However Sipilä and several of his ministers left the chamber just minutes after the start of the session – they were to reconvene to continue framework budget talks at the Prime Minister’s official residence, Kesäranta.

Since Sipilä was unavailable to field questions about his declaration the discussion quickly turned to the recent publication of millions of confidential documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossak Fonseca. The documents told the story of large scale tax evasion by wealthy individuals, aided by financial institutions and the Panama-based practice.

The remaining MPs unanimously called for stricter domestic and international legislation to combat tax evasion and tax planning.

Lawmakers demand stricter legislation, more transparency

Outgoing Left Alliance chair Paavo Arhinmäki sent a terse message to the ministers’ huddle at Kesäranta.

"My message is for the draft budget talks and the ministers: now is the time to get a new handle on this tax evasion [situation]," he said.

Greens chair Ville Niinistö noted that the Sipilä administration had not invested any special effort in the fight against illegal tax avoidance.

"So far in the EU the government has actually stalled some measures for intervening in tax avoidance and proposed making this nominee register possible for Finns abroad. In other words their record isn’t very good and they must immediately change direction," Niinistö declared.

MPs from the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, took up Niinistö’s refrain and condemned the government in a discussion on regulations governing the Central Securities Depository.

Parliamentarian Timo Harakka said that the government proposal currently being debated in Parliament opens the door for Finnish investors to purchase shares in Finnish companies abroad, record them in a foreign register and conceal their ownership from Finnish officials.

"There must be more, not less transparency, so I call on the government: don’t turn Finland into Panama!"

Government parties also chime in

MPs from the government coalition also joined in the chorus of condemnation.

"It’s high time that we at the national level begin to review our tax legislation, and in general begin to go through legislation regarding the transfer of wealth to find all the loopholes that exist, and through which money has been continually flowing to tax havens," said Finns Party MP Maria Tolppanen.

Ben Zyskowicz of the National Coalition Party pointed out that there were clear deficiencies in Finland, given that just 12 public officials had the responsibility for investigating illegal tax avoidance.

"In Sweden there are 200 and in Finland 12 people working on these matters so yes, in my view it’s time to consider whether or not this is appropriate in Finland, and as a matter of fact, whether it’s time to increase the number of these workers," Zyskowicz added.

The discussion was easily one of the most animated in Parliament to date – altogether some 60 lawmakers requested a speaking turn, although no ministers were present for the debate.

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